Archive for 2020

An American Pickle

Posted in Comedy, Drama with tags on August 7, 2020 by Mark Hobin

american_pickleSTARS2.5So I did laugh during An American Pickle.  The saga concerns Herschel Greenbaum, A struggling Jewish laborer who emigrates from Schlupke, Poland to New York in 1920 with hopes of building a better life.  He gets a menial job at a factory and accidentally falls into a vat of pickles.  Apparently, no one realizes this has occurred.  A lid is placed on the cask and then the warehouse is condemned immediately after.  100 years later, he wakes up alive in present-day Brooklyn and hasn’t aged a day.  He was perfectly preserved in that salty brine.  You’ve heard of magical realism?  Well, this is that component taken to the tenth power.  Herschel’s existence is a wonder of science.  He is promptly placed on television where he is interviewed.  An expert is asked how such an unbelievable event could have happened.  His inaudible response makes complete sense to all who hear it, or so we’re told through voice-over narration.   THAT writer’s construct made me chuckle.  The rest of the film, unfortunately, did not.  When the story isn’t unfocused, it’s uninteresting.

After a clever setup, the fable coasts gently downward from there.  Herschel learns his only surviving relative is a great-grandson named Ben, also played by Seth Rogen.  Rogen’s ability to play dual roles is indeed convincing.  It’s easy to forget that each character is played by the same person.  However, that doesn’t mean that they are both are appealing.  I appreciated the plight of old-world Herschel who wakes up disoriented à la Rip Van Winkle in contemporary society.  However, I didn’t warm up to Ben.  He’s such a jealous sourpuss of a personality.  First, he calls the authorities to destroy his great-grandfather’s business, then purposefully gives him bad advice for navigating social media, and later asks him a difficult question in a public forum to trip him up.  Ben is a thoroughly reprehensible human being.  And yet relationships improve simply because Hershel finds a drawing Ben made as a child.  Huh?!

An American Pickle is neither a tale where people behave rationally nor one where things develop in a coherent manner.  The slapdash nature of the story is irksome.  Case in point: how many different ways can you make a joke about androgynous people?  I counted three but there may have been more.  However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t an audience for this.   The feature debut from cinematographer Brandon Trost was written by Simon Rich—based on his novella Sell Out.   If you’ve ever joined a minyan to say the Mourner’s Kaddish then you may appreciate how the chronicle honors certain traditions.  The screenplay has a reverence for Judaism as well as maintaining personal ties with our ancestors.  Although I did find it amusing that when Herschel first meets Ben.  1920s Herschel is the inquisitive one, eager to learn all about his great-grandson’s modern time.  Meanwhile self-absorbed Ben surprisingly has not one question to ask regarding Hershel’s experiences in the past.  Ben’s lack of interest in anything but himself, matched my lack of enthusiasm for this movie.

08-06-20

Yes, God, Yes

Posted in Comedy, Drama with tags on August 3, 2020 by Mark Hobin

Adobe Photoshop PDFSTARS3“Guys are like microwave ovens and ladies are like conventional ovens.  Guys just need a few seconds, like a microwave, to get switched on, while ladies typically need to preheat for a while.”  So says Father Murphy (Timothy Simons) as he addresses a class of high schoolers in their morality class.  I had 8 years of Catholic schooling and I can honestly say I never had any instructor, priest or layperson ever compare sexual arousal to the workings of a kitchen appliance.  As a matter of fact, my teachers rarely even addressed sexuality at all, and when they did it was from a biological context (secondary sex characteristics and stuff like that).  I get that this is a movie though.  Humor is more entertaining than reality so I’ll accept writerly dialogue that feels invented.

Alice (Natalia Dyer) is a 16-year-old Catholic from Iowa during the early 2000s.  Yes, God, Yes is a sensitive portrait about the teen who is currently experiencing a sexual awakening.  After an AOL chat turns racy, Alice grapples with the guilt by signing up for a four-day retreat.  While trying to suppress her natural burgeoning sexuality, she inadvertently becomes the victim of a scandalous rumor concerning her and fellow student Wade (Parker Wierling).  It’s completely untrue.  Although Alice’s attraction to camp counselor Chris (Wolfgang Novogratz) is indeed genuine.  The adults have no nuance or depth.  They are hypocrites all.  In particular, the Father presiding over the event hides an embarrassing secret.  The teens however are a bit more nuanced.  Some even express an earnest and uplifting devotion to God.  When fellow student Nina (Alisha Boe) testifies at the retreat, it’s a sincere moment

The “big reveal” of Karen Maine’s screenplay is that those who profess to be Christian actually succumb to temptations as well.  Surprise!  Priests and teachers and peer youth leaders are human.  No points for the stating the obvious but at least she speaks from experience.  Writer-director Karen Maine is an ex-Catholic.  As such she intends to expose what she deems as hypocrisy.  This is her gentle send-up of religion.  The satire is pretty lighthearted and reminded me of my own experiences once or twice.  There’s one scene where Father Murphy plays Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” and he instructs the kids to imagine the song is about Jesus.  That is amusing but it also rings true.  I can attest ministers have indeed quoted current songs of the day as ways to make their talks more relevant to kids.  I still recall a lector who ardently cited the lyrics of “Missionary Man” by the Eurythmics during a homily for a mass when I was in high school.

The account does present the subject honestly and amicably without being acerbic.  The overall message does not condemn religion but rather promotes individuals to respect yourself as well as others.  Who can’t get behind that?  It’s a heavy topic but the narrative ultimately feels pretty slight.  The secret weapon is actress Natalia Dyer.  Her performance is at once shy, heartfelt, and authentic.  She’s markedly different from the more confident character she portrays on TV’s Stranger Things.  Alice evokes our sympathy because of innocence.  She is sexually naive and yet she understandably has questions.  Catholic guilt is powerful.  Regardless of your upbringing, the audience can relate and appreciate her struggle to do the right thing.  Couple that with normal teen angst and you got a coming of age story that is like navigating a minefield.

07-30-20

She Dies Tomorrow

Posted in Drama, Horror, Thriller with tags on August 1, 2020 by Mark Hobin

she_dies_tomorrowSTARS1.5Not one feature in 2020 was inspired by the COVID‑19 pandemic.  After all, movies this year were made well before our current situation.  Oh, I’m sure at some point in the future a ton of releases will be directly influenced by our dystopian state of affairs.  Nevertheless, that hasn’t stopped us critics to carelessly reinterpret everything as a metaphor for Coronavirus disease.  This is the umpteenth film to be analyzed this way.  That may help make it seem more of the moment, but it also serves to emphasize that the narrative is extremely weak.  The constant threat of death we have faced over the past year coupled with state-mandated restrictions and economic shutdowns are so much worse than anything these entitled individuals have to endure.  Their life is a blissful utopia by comparison.

So a woman named Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil) thinks she’s going to die tomorrow.  Amy expresses these feelings to her friend Jane (Jane Adams), who thinks she’s crazy at first.  Then Jane too thinks she’s going to die.  Jane likewise confides this to her brother Jason (Chris Messina) and his friends at a birthday party he’s throwing for his wife Susan (Katie Aselton).  Like a virus, soon they too are consumed by the same feeling.  This continues.  That’s the story.

Some readers may notice a similar preoccupation with how death spreads with esteemed titles like The Ring and It Follows. Those films are infinitely more interesting.  She Dies Tomorrow is burdened with a very low budget aesthetic.  The focus shifts from one character to another so we are introduced to several sullen types.  The personalities all suffer from an overwhelming sense of ennui and are largely depressing.  Everyone acts in a very naturalistic style without any concern for advancing the plot.  Knowledgeable fans may recognize actors Chris Messina, Josh Lucas, and Michelle Rodriguez who all appear in brief cameos, so I guess director Amy Seimetz must have called in a few favors.

Given the fact that not much of anything happens, conversation and mood are the whole point.  These are successful souls agonizing over a self-centered existential crisis.  People whine about insignificant problems they have intellectually created within their minds.  These thoughts have caused Amy to drink.  She also has just moved into a new home.  Poor thing!  She replays an oppressive version of Mozart’s “Lacrimosa (Reprise)” by Mondo Boys on a record player.  Yes, a vinyl record so she’s a privileged hipster.  She plays it over and over again to the point of irritation.  The characters mumble their dialogue.  Much of the script feels improvised.  Hallucinogenic flashing lights and overbearing sound design attempt to add interest.  Unfortunately, while the idea of death escalates, there’s no explanation as to why any of this is happening.  No resolution either.  Inexplicably, critical reaction has been positive.  I was completely bored by the entire affair.  When I wasn’t disinterested, I was slightly amused.  At times the production is so ostentatiously experimental, it borders on parody.   Despite the laughs, the experience was mostly tedious.

07-22-20

The Rental

Posted in Horror, Thriller with tags on July 30, 2020 by Mark Hobin

rentalSTARS4You’ll reconsider the next time you decide to stay at an Airbnb after watching The Rental.  I mean when you think about it, moving into a stranger’s abode, even if only for a few days, is awkward.  It’s an intimate experience that requires trust.  This portrait presents insidious behaviors I may never shake.  But isn’t that what effective horror does?  Introduce fears that now haunt you.  I mean Hitchcock made the simple act of taking a shower scary.  2020 has had no shortage of horror films and wouldn’t ya know it.  This is a review for yet another.  Don’t write this off as an average release from the genre.  This one is quite good.

Our tale concerns two couples vacationing together for a weekend.  There’s Charlie (Dan Stevens) and his wife Michelle (Alison Brie) and then there’s Josh (Jeremy Allen White) and his girlfriend Mina (Sheila Vand). Josh and Charlie are brothers.  Mina and Charlie are business partners.  It sounds a little convoluted but as developments unfold, the relationships feel organic.  The connections help explain the familiarity that everyone has with each other.

The “rental” of the title refers to a glorious ocean view estate along the Oregon Coast.  The property is available to rent for anyone looking to get away.  Well, actually Mina’s application to lodge there is denied until Charlie’s is approved.  Did the fact that her full name is Mina Mohammadi have anything to do with that?  The group wonders.  That’s the first, but certainly not the last, disconcerting situation our foursome encounters.  Josh insists on bringing his bulldog even though there is a distinct no-pets rule.  That doesn’t bode well either.  Upon arrival at the house, they meet their host, a good ol’ boy named Taylor (Toby Huss).  The creepy passive-aggressive conversation they have with him has unsettling undercurrents that set the tone for their stay.

The Rental is the directorial debut from actor Dave Franco (21 Jump Street, Now You See Me) and it is a surprisingly assured and accomplished effort.  Beautifully filmed, effectively acted, and well-plotted ….up to a point.  This horror saga is an efficient 88 minutes.  I dare say the first two-thirds had me thinking this was more of a psychological thriller along the lines of something Hitchcock might do.  A lot of the credit must also go to the king of mumblecore Joe Swanberg (Drinking Buddies) who brings his talent for natural dialogue to the screenplay he co-wrote with Dave Franco.  An interesting schism is introduced after a disagreement arises over whether to take recreational drugs that first evening.

The cracks that exist within their respective relationships underscore the subsequent events.  College dropout Josh has already expressed reservations that he feels he isn’t good enough for wildly successful tech entrepreneur Mina.  These thoughts weigh on his mind.  Co-workers Charlie and Mina are back at the mansion dealing with a hangover from the previous night.  Meanwhile, Josh and Michelle have a deep discussion while the two are out walking together in the woods that same morning.  Josh drops some revelations.  Michelle begins to doubt Charlie’s faithfulness after being confronted with a disturbing pattern in his past relationships.

The Rental holds a brilliant set-up that could have gone any number of ways.  I must tread lightly for fear of spoilers but the uneasy feelings are further compounded by a shocking discovery they make on the property they are renting.  Unfortunately, the end isn’t — shall we say — as intellectually sophisticated as the beginning.  In fact, the narrative devolves into a completely different film.  I admit I enjoyed both of them.  What ultimately happens is still exciting.  Just a wee bit anticlimactic after the impressive setup I relished before.

Palm Springs

Posted in Comedy, Fantasy, Mystery, Romance with tags on July 27, 2020 by Mark Hobin

palm_springsSTARS4So I’ll just cut to the chase and start off by saying that Palm Springs made assembling my Top 10 list for 2020 a little easier.  I wasn’t prepared for how thoroughly enjoyable this tale would be.  Romantic comedies are often given short shrift when it comes to discussing great cinema but when they are done well the genre can hit emotional highs in a way that few stories can.

The amorous entanglement concerns two strangers who are both guests at a wedding in Palm Springs.  They meet and then promptly get stuck repeating the same span of time over and over.  It’s obviously similar to Groundhog Day.  I cherish that classic and I dare say Palm Springs is a close 2nd in all films featuring a time loop.  That may seem like a narrow bar but there’s a surprising number of choices that qualify: Source Code, About Time, Edge of Tomorrow, Naked and Happy Death Day are but only a few.  This is a story about how Nyles (Andy Samberg) and Sarah (Cristin Milioti) become an unlikely couple in the midst of bizarre circumstances.

Palm Springs has a breezy screenplay that doesn’t take itself very seriously.  Yet it’s smart and coherent when it needs to be.  Nyles and Sarah aren’t about love at first sight.  He’s actually there with his girlfriend Misty (Meredith Hagner) who one of the bridesmaids.  Oh, it’s OK he flirts with Sarah.  Misty has been cheating on Nyles and he knows it.  Sarah isn’t some demure heroine.  In fact, she’s kind of edgy and bitter. Meanwhile, Nyles isn’t a suave leading man. He can be a goofball but he’s still charming nonetheless.  Neither Sarah nor Nyles wants to be a guest at this wedding.  So they have that in common and are united by this feeling.  That’s enough.  Then the temporal loop shenanigans begin.

None of this preposterous — albeit inspired — nonsense would work if the two stars weren’t so charismatic.  The saga stars Andy Samberg who got his start on the long-running late-night sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live in 2005.  He’s part of a contingent with a persona like Adam Sandler and Jimmy Fallon in the ensemble.  Pete Davidson currently holds that casting slot.  This may sound like I’m negating actor Samberg’s individuality.  I’m not.  In fact, he is probably the most appealing member that has ever held that niche.

Nyles has met the woman who will change his life in Sarah.  Cristin Milioti is probably best known for her role in the final season of the TV sitcom How I Met Your Mother.  She’s featured in one of my favorite scenes in this production.  Sarah is hardcore studying quantum physics to figure out how to end this infinite time loop in which she’s stuck.  The inspired montage is set to “The Brazilian” by Genesis.  Another endearing musical vignette involves the couple’s impromptu dance in a bar while “Megatron Man” by Patrick Cowley blasts in the background.  These displays aren’t rare occurrences but representative of the many delightful moments contained within.  It’s been a while since a romantic comedy captivated me this much.  It’s funny, sweet, and a little acerbic.  I loved it.

07-11-20

Greyhound

Posted in Action, Drama, History with tags on July 21, 2020 by Mark Hobin

greyhound_ver2STARS3Are you thirsting for more World War II dramas?  Well, you’re in luck.  This is yet another — and decidedly old fashioned — saga between Axis and Allied powers.  This one happens to star America’s sweetheart Tom Hanks.  It’s clearly a passion project too because he also wrote the screenplay.

The setting is the Battle of the Atlantic which was a long ongoing military campaign that began in 1939 and lasted until the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945.  Hanks stars as US Navy Commander Ernest Krause in charge of the USS Keeling which had the codename: Greyhound.  That’s where the title comes from.  He’s leading a convoy of 37 ships.  Considering his career, the part is sort of a callback to the movie Captain Phillips.  There the 64-year-old actor also played a ship commander, albeit one from more recent times.

Tom Hanks is great at playing decent, honorable men.  He has cemented his status in the last decade with Captain Phillips, Saving Mr. Banks, Bridge of Spies, and Sully.  Add this one to the list.  He’s definitely noble here.  He’s even shown kneeling in prayer at the end of the day.  However, the interesting thing is he’s playing a character that is a little out of his depth as an authority.  The rest of the crew have seen battle before so they’re knowledgeable.  Captain Krause has a lot of more years on these fellows but he’s less familiar with combat and his inexperience in this area plays a key factor in the story.  The production is respectable and sincere so it has good intentions.

If only the narrative were just a wee bit more compelling.  Hanks’ script isn’t about exploring the emotional core of one man.  Instead, you get an immersive feel for the day-to-day routine of the officers.  The dialogue is chock full of the jargon and minutiae of naval tactics, but it lacks humanity.  You can still enjoy the movie without understanding all the lingo but if you really want to understand every word I suggest closed captions.  Nevertheless, the military fight scenes are the best part.  They are extremely effective and well filmed so I’m giving this a pass because of the impressive spectacle.  I will only lament that it would’ve been significantly better in a theater on a big screen.

07-12-20

The Old Guard

Posted in Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Thriller with tags on July 20, 2020 by Mark Hobin

old_guardSTARS3The Old Guard isn’t winning any Oscars but that doesn’t mean it isn’t enjoyable.  I am a movie critic, not a film “snob”.  Of course, that word means different things to different people.  For some, a snob will actually scorn blatant Oscar bait so I probably shouldn’t get too bogged down in labels.  I only contest that I have a love for many types of flicks even when I critique a release for its obvious flaws.  Critics rightfully want to champion works that promote character development but movies that simply indulge on a purely visceral level are often negated.

There was an era (the 1980s) that genre films of this type routinely succeeded and the perspective changed.  An action-packed screenplay could also support interesting characters that kept us on the edge of our seats. First Blood (1982), The Terminator (1984), Die Hard (1988) and Point Break (1991) are just a few examples of what I’m talking about.  The passage of time has only cemented these thrilling classics in the pantheon.  It’s easy to defend these endeavors as cinematic touchstones now but it wasn’t in the age they came out.  The Old Guard seeks to delight that same audience.  This production doesn’t come anywhere close to achieving the heights of those aforementioned titles but there is a glimmer here of what made them great.

The chronicle concerns an impressive team of soldiers for hire that goes on a revenge mission.  The difference is that these mercenaries are immortal.  Charlize Theron plays Andy also known as Andromache of Scythia.  She’s a centuries-old leader of a band of warriors and she’s perfectly cast.  Theron exhibited a desire for such projects when she did Æon Flux 15 years ago but it’s really only been in the last 5 years that she has presented herself as a serious action star.  Mad Max: Fury Road, Atomic Blonde, The Fate of the Furious, and now this.  Theron’s unflinching portrayal is one of the high points.

I crave a story.  These roles are difficult because they’re largely defined by fight choreography and not the depth of nuance in the acting department.  In fact, the ability to show little to no emotion is usually desired.  That’s exactly what Andy is — a killing machine with a consistently grave demeanor.  She barely comes across as human. Showing more character development is a woman named Nile Freeman played by KiKi Layne (If Beale Street Could Talk) who was a former US Marine who discovers she is an immortal as well.  Her journey as a new addition to the team is emotionally compelling.  The appealing cast also includes actors Matthias Schoenaerts and Chiwetel Ejiofor.  Their presence, as well as others, ensures the audience is treated to a captivating ensemble of personalities.

The Old Guard is actually adapted from a graphic novel so if you suffer from what I call “comic-book movie fatigue” this may not be your cup of tea.   It can be a bit formulaic but the fight sequences are indeed dynamic.  Director Gina Prince-Bythewood has only helmed three films since her directorial debut Love & Basketball in 2000.  The Secret Life of Bees (2008), and Beyond the Lights (2014) followed.  Each work is satisfying.  The Old Guard is a big hit on Netflix so perhaps this will be the moment that finally catapults a career that spans two decades.  It has a fantastical superhero element to it.  Given the silliness of the premise, I would’ve appreciated a little more humor though.  Why so serious?  Nevertheless, if you’re looking to be entertained for 125 minutes, this should fit the bill.

07-13-20

Fast Film Reviews on talkSPORT radio

Posted in Podcast with tags on July 16, 2020 by Mark Hobin

I was a guest on talkSPORT radio with Will Gavin to discuss the latest movies. On this week’s movie segment, hear my thoughts on ARTEMIS FOWL (Disney+) and DA 5 BLOODS (Netflix). My segment begins just 3 minutes into the 2:30-3:00 section (about 27 minutes from the end). Enjoy!

cropped-App-Icon2

 

Click the link below and hit play:

Source: The world’s biggest sports radio station | talkSPORT

Relic

Posted in Drama, Horror with tags on July 14, 2020 by Mark Hobin

relic_ver2STARS4The Unforgiven is a western with Burt Lancaster and Audrey Hepburn from 1960.  Unforgiven is a 1992 western directed and starring Clint Eastwood.  Heat is a 1995 crime drama with Robert De Niro and Al Pacino.  The Heat is a 2013 crime comedy featuring Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock.  The pantheon of two distinct movies whose titles are merely differentiated by an article “The” just added a new member.  The Relic is a 1997 horror flick with Penelope Ann Miller and Tom Sizemore.  This current release Relic is a 2020 horror movie starring Emily Mortimer.  However, it begins rather peacefully as a drama.  That’s part of what makes this narrative so compelling.  It ever so gradually lures you into its web of dread.

Relic is shrewdly built around a simple premise.  What will happen when our parents age?  The story is about a concerned woman named Kay (Emily Mortimer).  Her mother Edna (Robyn Nevin) goes missing and so she takes a trip out to the dilapidated old mansion where she lives and brings her own adult daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) along for moral support.  Kay’s mother does indeed show up again but she seems…..a little strange.  At first we the audience wonder if Edna is suffering from dementia, but then there are these weird sounds and shadowy figures that sort of appear in the nooks and crannies of the house.  It’s beautifully photographed at times exploiting the eerie vacant spaces of a large house as Kubrick did in The Shining.  These events justify that Edna’s fears might be based on very real things.

First time director Natalie Erika James does an excellent job at presenting this narrative.  It’s profoundly unsettling because it truly makes us understand the same experience as this trio of women.  We begin to question what is mental illness and what are supernatural forces?  Actress Robyn Nevins is like two distinct people as the aging matriarch.  When Edna gifts a ring to her granddaughter it’s a sweet gesture from a loving grandmother.  The very next day she angrily demands why Sam has stolen the ring when she notices it on her finger.  The scene suggests senility but Edna almost appears possessed, a completely different person.  It’s very effective.

Relic may be a spartan tale but it feels deep because of the thoughtful performances.  Director James adds all sorts of little touches to give these women a soul.  Edna’s home is littered with a collection of sticky notes as reminders to do menial tasks.  She has a hobby of carving candles, large bulky pieces whose wax has been twisted to form intricate shapes.  Meanwhile, Kay and her daughter Sam have a strained relationship.  Sam’s aimless job is a point of contention while Kay’s preoccupation with her own career has left poor Edna neglected.  Actress Emily Mortimer is always good.  As Kay, she exhibits fragility while still seeming intelligent and capable.  The thespian wields her vulnerability like a weapon that compels audiences to care.  If you enjoy horror flicks that are creepy without being overly graphic, then I highly recommend this film.  I quite enjoyed it.

07-10-20

Shirley

Posted in Biography, Drama, Thriller with tags on July 3, 2020 by Mark Hobin

shirleySTARS2It’s now considered a classic, but when Shirley Jackson’s short story The Lottery was originally published in the New Yorker back in 1948 it was extremely controversial. Readers called it “outrageous,” “gruesome,” and “utterly pointless”. Most people were confused by the fable. In a similar fashion, this movie appears to seek the same reaction from viewers.  Shirley unfolds like one of her tales.

Shirley is a completely fictionalized biography of the acclaimed American writer.  Shirley Jackson was an actual person.  The author is well known for horror and mystery.  The Lottery became one of the most frequently anthologized short stories in English.  It’s essentially mandatory reading in the U.S. curriculum so chances are you were forced to read it in school.  That’s not a dig. I agree it’s an effective composition that evokes dread, but * full disclosure * my introduction to it was involuntary.   Another work of hers includes The Haunting of Hill House which has been adapted to film in both 1963 and again in 1999.

Shirley, however, isn’t really about anything that concerns those contributions.  Actually, the facts of this story are a humorous detail.  The movie, directed by Josephine Decker, is adapted by Sarah Gubbins from the novel of the same name by Susan Scarf Merrell.  In what I assume was an innovative attempt to make the career of Shirley Jackson more interesting, her life and that of her husband Stanley Hyman (Michael Stuhlbarg) has been reimagined.  Jackson is suffering from depression, unable to write.  She rarely leaves her bedroom.  Stanley invites a couple — Rose (Odessa Young) and Fred (Logan Lerman) — to come to live with them in North Bennington to help out.  This situation inspires Jackson to write a book.  There is some validity.  Shirley was a married author who released a novel called Hangsaman.  The screenplay fictitiously envisions that piece was inspired by this arrangement.  However, the rest of the narrative including the very existence of this couple is made up.  I’m all for creative license, but why in this case?  Was the truth even more dreary?  If the writers had been a slave to authenticity perhaps there might be some excuse for the banality of this tale. Yet this is a complete fabrication where the writer could have created any number of scenarios in which to delight the audience.  The fabrication they chose didn’t do it for me.

Shirley is such a bizarre film because it seems to eschew the basic qualities that make a captivating picture.  The central protagonist isn’t likable, it moves at a snail’s pace and nothing particularly exciting happens.  Elisabeth Moss conspicuously goes the actorly route by sporting unkempt hair and a pair of unflattering spectacles.  How closely her behavior matches the real author is not something I am qualified to review.   I know what I find entertaining, however, and this ain’t it.  I’ll concede that Moss is good.  She perfectly affects a decidedly unique personality so her achievement is effective on that level.  A devotee of the author could easily imagine that the actual woman might be a dark person.  However, in this portrait, she isn’t a subject that you’d want to construct an entire production around.

An amusing addendum.  I recognize that Shirley Jackson’s most famous work was originally published in the New Yorker in 1948.  That esteemed magazine was a pioneer in giving the author significant attention.  The periodical could well be considered her very first fan.  That “weekly” publication (47 times annually) still exists and continues to review films as well.  Their numerical assessment of this movie?  40/100 according to Metacritic.com.  Ouch! And I thought I was being harsh.

06-09-20